* Rapeseed plantings rise, but extreme cold threatens yields
* Cold weather to continue in top producing state Rajasthan
* India may need to raise edible oil imports to fulfil
By Rajendra Jadhav
MUMBAI, Jan 8 India's rapeseed production is
unlikely to rise in 2014 despite increased plantings as cold
weather in the top producing region is seen denting yields,
forcing the country to raise imports of palm and sunflower oil.
After a poor harvest of soybeans, the world's biggest edible
oil importer was relying on rapeseed output to arrest rising
imports. Without any rise in rapeseed production, India will be
forced to increase imports - which cost it a record $11.3
billion last fiscal year - from May onwards.
"Rapeseed production would be more or less steady around
last year's level," said Praveen Khandelwal, vice president of
corporate strategy at Gokul Refoils & Solvent Ltd, the
biggest rapeseed processor in the country.
India produced 6.4 million tonnes of rapeseed - also known
as mustard seed - in 2013.
The area planted with rapeseed has risen to 6.97 million
hectares this year from 6.5 million hectares a year ago, as
farmers took advantage of monsoon-soaked land to grow the crop,
which is more lucrative than the usual chickpea.
Based on the higher acreage, industry officials had been
expecting as much as a 7.7 percent rise in production.
But a sharp fall in temperatures over the past two weeks in
the rapeseed growing north-western region of the country - in
some some places near 0 degrees Celsius - has stunted vegetative
growth and in a few areas hurt flowering.
"In some areas, especially in the northern part of the
state, there are reports of crop damage. It is difficult to
quantify," said a senior official at the agriculture department
of the desert state of Rajasthan, which accounts for more than
half total output.
"If the temperature remains below normal level for another
two weeks, as forecast by the weather department, then yield may
go down," said the official, who was not authorized to speak to
The weather department expects extreme cold weather in the
area at least for the next week and thundershowers in the next
"Crop cultivated in rainfed areas and early-sown crop is
likely to be affected by the cold wave and ground frost, but in
other areas we can expect normal yields," said Dhiraj Singh,
director at the Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research.
"So far we have seen the impact of the cold wave only in
small pockets," Singh said.
India's edible oil imports are steadily increasing due to
rising prosperity and population growth. In the 2012/13
marketing year ended on Oct. 31, imports surged to 10.4 million
tonnes, compared with 5.6 million tonnes just five years back.
The south Asian country fills more than half its edible oil
demand through imports, consisting mainly of palm oil sourced
from Indonesia and Malaysia. It also buys soyoil from Argentina
and Brazil, and sunflower oil from Ukraine.
"Rapeseed output is a key in determining edible oil imports.
If it fails to increase, then there is no choice but to raise
imports," said Badruddin Khan, associate vice-president of
research at Indiabulls Commodities.
The rapeseed futures contract for January delivery
on the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange fell more
than 5 percent in December on expectations of a bumper output.
It has rebounded 3 percent so far in January as the weather
outlook has become more unfavourable.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Richard Pullin)